A growing number of environmentalists within the permaculture community and beyond are concerned about the negative impacts on the Earth of how our society deals with death. Many more people are simply not aware that this environmental harm exists within our death culture in the UK.
The environmental impact of death and dying (especially the funeral ‘industry’ with its cremation, embalming, clothing, coffins, large oil-consuming cars, and buildings) can be deeply damaging to our ability to care for the Earth. Hospitals in the rich world are very environmentally costly places in terms of equipment, power needs and geographical locations.
.In the UK, there are currently huge inequalities in terms of whether or not people with progressive serious health problems are encouraged to talk about and plan for death and dying. If people are given the space to do so, it’s often at a time when they are feeling too unwell to be able to articulate what they would like to happen in terms of their experience of death and the care they will receive.
Designing our own end of life care when we are fit and well (and discussing it with friends and family) also inspires others to think about their own plans. This will mean that more of us can have the death we would prefer.
The funeral industry in the UK is big business. The financial cost of a typical funeral in the UK has risen by over 80% since 2004. This is way above inflation. The average price of a very basic cremation using a funeral director is about £3,400. A burial costs well over £4000. More details about funeral costs can be found here.
This puts the cost of dying beyond the financial means of many people, resulting in further distress for friends or relatives in their bereavement. A significant proportion of the monetary costs are for things that are not strictly essential and which are also environmentally harmful.
Many people believe that use of a funeral director is compulsory for organizing events after someone has died. Whilst they are a great source of help for a lot of people, few seem to be aware that it is perfectly legal for families and friends to deal with all the aspects of after-death care and any ceremonies undertaken.
For those people who wish to use ''death professionals' (funeral directors, celebrants etc.) there are many who operate flexibly and will help us to have the after-death care that fits with our ethics and our personal needs and wants.
Within British culture, death, dying and bereavement are still issues that many of us feel are difficult - even taboo - to talk and learn about. Popular media images of death and dying often portray an image of inevitable suffering, as does frequent media coverage highlighting the inadequacies of health and social services in providing good end of life care and support. As a result, many people live in fear of death and the dying process and ultimately do not have the death they would have preferred.
Problematic issues including misconceptions, unspoken anxiety, lack of control, or the loved ones of a dying person perceiving the dying process as a ‘bad death’ can all contribute towards problematic grief.
Research demonstrates that this problematic grief can ultimately lead to a lifetime of being unable to positively address issues around any loss in life (jobs, homes, relationships, health). This can result in poor emotional and physical health, placing a huge burden not only on the wellbeing and happiness of the person involved but on health and social care services and thus the wider economy.
Health and social care services in Britain are pushed beyond capacity in many areas in terms of being able to provide appropriate support to people. Because of the pressures on them, they often do not adequately offer people the individualised care they need and want.
Making advance plans for how we want to be cared for can mean that these resources can be targeted towards appropriate care for us and others rather than being used for care we do not need or want. In addition, we might want to consider specifying other forms of support, such as friends, family, death doulas etc.